In recent years we’ve witnessed the resurgence of music blending gospel, Americana, bluegrass, and folk. Two outstanding bands that have emerged in this tradition are New York state’s Ollabelle and Austin, Texas-based band the Wooden Birds. Both cook up a curious stew that satisfies your soul and leaves you wanting to know more. So here we go!
The band’s name was inspired by fabled Appalachian songwriter and banjo player Ola Belle Reed, who grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina. I fondly recall her songs “High on the Mountain” and “Ola Belle’s Blues.” The legendary T-Bone Burnett produced Ollabelle’s self-titled album in 2004, the same year the band toured with Alison Krauss on her Great High Mountain tour. Subsequent albums include Riverside Battle Songs (2006), Before This Time (2009), and Neon Blue Bird (2011).
Ollabelle consists of five (and sometimes six) singers and multi-instrumentalists from the U.S., Canada, and Australia. One is mandolin player Amy Helm, daughter of the Band drummer Levon Helm, who passed away recently. Amy and bassist Byron Isaacs played regularly with the Levon Helm Band (LHB), and other Ollabelle members occasionally joined sessions, too. The rest of the Ollabelle musicians include Glenn Patscha (keyboards, accordion), Fiona McBain (guitars), and Tony Leone (percussion, mandolin).
The following five tracks display the broad range of Ollabelle’s musical approaches.
• “See Line Woman” (2006) is a very old children’s playground song by an unknown writer with Southern roots. Nina Simone’s 1964 cover of this song is probably the most notable previous recording.
• “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (2011) features a bluesy mountain banjo that backs vocals reminiscent of Grace Potter’s best stuff.
• “Troubles of the World” (2006) begins the revival meeting, complete with electric guitar and tight female harmonies, finishing with strings that fade into the night.
• “Soul of a Man” (2004) features yearning lyrics written by Blind Willie Johnson, who was born in Texas in 1897.
• “I Am Waiting” (2004) continues with the Southern gospel blues theme and sounds like something that Bonnie Raitt could also deliver with equal passion.
If you take the time to listen to these five songs, it’s probable that you will explore additional music from the Ollabelle library. Isn’t this fun?
Andrew Kenny of the Wooden Birds
The Wooden Birds
Although classified as an Indie rock band, I feel the genre is closer to Appalachian Mountain music. Andrew Kenny, formerly with American Analog Set and also Broken Social Scene, has been recording and performing with the Wooden Birds since 2008. Since then, they released two albums: Magnolia (2009) and Two Matchsticks (2011). Most of the music has distinctive percussive beats that feel like they come from an Appalachian Sunday session after the pastor has inspired the flock.
I’ve chosen four songs that reflect the unique style of the Wooden Birds.
• In “Sugar” (2009), “the doors are locked tight and the window holes wide,” while the chorus reminds that “Mama’s saving all her sugar for you.” The rhythmic acoustic guitar and subtle electric guitar provide the foundation for this chant about love not quite finding a home.
• “Believe in Love” (2009) is a good companion piece to “Sugar,” and the message extends the hope that comes by keeping the faith.
• “Maneater” (2011) is a cover of the Hall and Oates classic from 1982. Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up!
• “Be No Lie” (2011) continues with music from the Two Matchsticks CD. Tambourine keeps the beat. Acoustic guitar plays the main line. Andrew Kenny lays down the vocals.
For those familiar with the roots of American music, the Wooden Birds and Ollabelle will take you to a brilliant level of polished performance. Take the time to discover more about Ollabelle and the Wooden Birds, both worthy members of your evolving music collection.
Join Andy on Fringe Toast every Wednesday at 8 p.m. on KRUU-FM (100.1 FM), www. kruufm.com.